Did you know that every year, almost one in 50 homes experiences a frozen pipe issue serious enough to warrant an insurance claim? The smallest fissure in a water pipe can send hundreds of gallons of water per minute flooding into your home, leading to significant and costly damage. Compounding this issue is the fact that the first bouts of subfreezing weather in Atlanta often arrive hand in hand with the Thanksgiving and Christmas travel season, when many of us are not home to let our faucets drip and turn off our outside spigots. Luckily an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Read on for more information about frozen pipes and some tips on getting your pipes ready for the plummeting temperatures before they arrive.
Why Do Pipes Burst?
When water freezes in your pipes, the newly forming ice can cause expansion that damages weak plumbing and the connection points of pipes. In addition to the expansion of the ice itself, ice blockages create a build up of pressure in the pipe, between the ice blockage and your faucet. That pressure can cause a rip or tear in the pipe, especially if previous cold spells have weakened the pipes. When the ice blockage melts, the water trapped behind it will begin to push its way out of the pipe. In some colder climates, damage from a burst pipe might not even show up until after the winter, when the blockages finally melt.
So what can you do to avoid these disasters?
Wrap Outdoor Pipes
If you have any pipes located outdoors or in an uninsulated crawl space, wrap them in insulating pipe cover before the temperatures begin to drop below freezing. If you have pipes in an unheated garage or unfinished basement, those pipes will also need some extra care before a freeze. Foam pipe covers are inexpensive and easy to find, with most hardware and big box stores selling them for as little as $3 per 6 foot roll. When you consider that the average cost to fix a burst pipe and its ensuing damage is approximately $5,000, this preventative measure is a no brainer!
Leave on the Heat
If you will be away from home for an extended period of time, such as a winter vacation or while visiting family for the holidays, resist the urge to turn your heat off while you are gone. If the temperature in your home dips too low, even pipes in well-insulated walls are at risk of freezing. Feel free to dial the temperature down a few degrees cooler than you normally keep it, but it should never be turned off completely. Preferably thermostats should not be set to below 55 degrees. Before you head out of town, open the cabinets under sinks and make sure the interior doors throughout your home are left open to keep the warm air flowing. The bonus to leaving your heat on is that you won’t need to use quite so much energy trying to heat it back up upon your return.
Let the Water Flow
Whenever temperatures are predicted to drop below freezing, leave a faucet in your house running with small but steady flow. When a tap is left open like this, it relieves the air pressure that can build up behind a blockage, preventing damaging rips and tears in your pipes. Even if the water slows or stops and you suspect a freeze, leave the tap open to prevent the pressure buildup. Choose the faucet farthest from where water enters your home so that water must cycle all the way through your piping system in order to drip. And leave both the hot and cold taps dripping.
How High is the Risk Really, Here in Atlanta?
If we don’t get much freezing weather, your home is safe, right? Think again. Homes built in temperate Southern climates aren’t usually built with frosty weather in mind, and may contain more uninsulated pipes than homes in located in parts of the country where freezing weather is the norm. Never assume that just because frozen pipes are less common, that they can’t happen to you.